Developer constructs 3 MW digester project in rural Indiana

By Katie Fletcher | July 08, 2014

A $7 million anaerobic digestion facility to convert area dairy farm manure to electricity is under development in Elkhart County, Indiana. The developer of the project is Brian Furrer, president of Bio Town Ag, a company focused on new farming operations that are environmentally sustainable. The project, named Green Cow Power, expects to be up and running by September if construction goes smoothly, sending 3 MW of electricity to the grid.

Furrer constructed a similar facility, now operated by his company Bio Town Ag, in Reynolds, Indiana, which produces about twice the electricity the town of Reynolds even uses. He brings his experience with the Reynolds facility to Green Cow Power. Furrer chose a formal gravel mining site in rural Goshen in Elkhart County as the location for the new project because of the numerous dairy farms.

Mike Yoder, county commissioner and dairy farm owner, also believes the facility is a good fit to utilize the dairy farms and benefit from the urbanization of the county. “The idea of having a number of dairy farms in one area producing a lot of manure, and then being able to process it with one operation is a benefit for a county with this kind of urbanization,” Yoder said.

Another reason Furrer chose to develop the project in the county is because the electric utility NIPSCO serves the area. Furrer claims that “NIPSCO is doing the best job of working with dairy farmers of anyone in the state,” according to a press release.

The utility industry is looking to buy more biomass, solar and wind energy, as new federal environmental regulations allow less use of coal. Through the Feed-in Tariff Program, designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies, NIPSCO bought about 6,200 MWh in the program's first year, 2011, and last year bought about 49,000 MWh, or enough to power about 6,000 homes per year, according to NIPSCO spokeswoman Kathleen Szot.

“NIPSCO has become much easier to work with for green energy projects like this, because the amount they pay makes the electricity production cash flow better,” Yoder said.

With the needed support and resources the project hopes to successfully contribute to growth in the community and the popularity of biomass power generation. “It’s a $7 million investment, from a county commissioner standpoint we like to see that kind of growth happen in our community,” Yoder said.

Based on what Ferrer learned in Reynolds, he figures it will take about seven years to recoup the $7 million in capital costs.

The manure the Green Cow Power project will collect comes from local dairy farmer Brent Martin and some of his relatives, who are partners and investors in the project. Their five dairies are all located within a roughly 3 mile radius of the site. The project will need about three semitrailers full of manure a day from the dairies.

“With the amount of dairy cow manure that will be going into that operation we’ll be monitoring the road conditions in that area, Yoder said.

Once the manure reaches the facility it will be pumped into two underground anaerobic digesters, which combined hold 5 million gallons of manure at a time. Manure will remain in the digester for 22 days. Besides the electricity produced from the methane gas, solids from the waste will be separated, dried and used as bedding for the cattle barns. Leftover liquids will be sent into a 25 million gallon open lagoon, where it will be stored until the dairy farmers can spread it on crops as fertilizer.

Furrer said there should not be much odor coming from the lagoon because fatty acids, which cause the most odor, are removed in the digester. At Furrer’s other facility in Reynolds they’re trying to perfect the process to produce water clean enough for cattle to drink.

“Some of these farms are in an area where there are rural residential housing, so disposing of the manure in this way should be beneficial,” Yoder said. “It’s a very environmentally friendly way to handle manure.”